I’ve seen a few articles saying that the Tory campaign fail can be attributed to Crosby’s insistence on message discipline or M&C Saatchi-style ‘brutal simplicity’.
The argument runs: repeating “strong and stable leadership” was a dumb thing to do and the constant reiteration of that phrase got annoying. They then contend that in a fragmented media landscape you need a multifaceted approach and suggest that a Crosby-style single-minded campaign is for a previous age.
Having a single, simple and compelling narrative is a fundamental aspect of a good election campaign.
What went wrong in the Conservative campaign was that Theresa May simply parroted the strapline, rather than telling the story. May’s pitch was rigid, badly presented and done in turgid environments which bored the press pack travelling with her and everyone who had to read or watch the coverage.
The Conservative narrative that was very well-constructed in the build-up to the election was as follows: Theresa May will defy the vested interests to bring about change for those just about managing.
It’s that narrative that gave May her 20 point poll lead at the start of the campaign.
“Strong and stable leadership” was intended to be a mental shortcut for a Conservative Party that would stand up to the EU and negotiate a good deal for Britain; for an economy that delivered for ordinary people; for a party that understood the way lots of people felt about immigration; for a Prime Minister unafraid of taking on big corporations such as energy companies; for a leader who could defend the country against internal and external threats.
If you look at the messaging that the Conservatives were deploying on social media advertising – a selection below – you will see that is the story that Lynton Crosby and agency Edmonds Elder were trying to tell.
But Theresa May lacked the flexibility and craft to be able to tell these individual stories in interesting and motivating ways, using “strong and stable leadership” as a unifying theme, without sounding like a robot.
Given that earned media coverage – which at election time is largely generated by a party leader – is disproportionately important on the end result, this was a major barrier to success.
If you think about the successful Vote Leave campaign which took place last year, they had a brilliantly consistent message: take back control. But the people and organisations that were delivering it did it with flare, passion and energy.
The problem wasn’t the message, it was the messenger.